Network Associates sent out the latest in a long line of computer virus warnings on Friday, but competitors say the new Caligula virus is nothing to worry about.
Caligula was alarmingly described by the antivirus software supplier on Friday, as a "virus that steals files from users," but Carey Nachenberg, chief researcher at arch rival Symantec?s Antivirus Resource Center, was sceptical.
"This looks like a typical Word 97 macro virus. It?s not something we?re particularly worried about. This information is actually useless without the [user?s] password" he attested.
Caligula performs some minor mischief when it infects a PC, for instance, on the 31st of each month, it displays a Window with a message that reads: "No cia, No nsa, No satellite, Could map our veins." It also changes computer users? name in the Windows registry to "Caligula".
The "file stealing" occurs when users have a Pretty Good Privacy(PGP) encryption key, however. The virus locates the key and sends it to the virus? author.
While Network Associates admitted that the ?stolen? PGP key was useless, it also warned users to use secure pass phrases containing a unique combination of characters and to "update their antivirus software immediately".
And critics have pointed out that this is often the not so hidden message behind antivirus warnings sent out by commercial companies. Over the last few months, various antivirus software developers have repeatedly issued alarmist press releases about ?new? viruses they claim to have discovered.
Almost invariably, these virus scares prove to be exaggerated with the viruses turning out to be less dangerous or common than suggested by the vendor.
Network Associates, in particular, was criticised for a virus scare it initiated in December, when it held a dramatic conference call to journalists to herald its discovery of ?Remote Explorer?.
Rob Rosenberger, an antivirus researcher, lambasted the company about Remote Explorer on his ?Antivirus myths? Website at http://www.kumite.com/myths, dubbing it a "publicity stunt".
But he also criticised Symantec for repeatedly "sending out a 'Virus Advisory' press release so naove reporters will take the bait."
Sal Viveros, product marketing manager for Network Associates? Total Virus Defence product family, defended his company?s decision to send out a virus alert, however.
"The intent of this was not to be alarmist - our intent is to inform our customers. We try to send out alerts whenever there is a new type of virus that is unique," he said.
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